Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Libraries and Digital Scholarship

In “It’s the Content, Stupid,” Steven Escar Smith and Holly Mercer discuss the role of libraries in digital scholarship (i.e., “digital monographs and journals as well as … scholarly websites, online archives, blogs, wikis, and other outlets for research”).

According to a 2008 report from the Association of Research Libraries, Current Models of Digital Scholarly Communication, the existence and influence of “new model” or “new media” publications of digital scholarly communication are “no longer hypothetical but increasingly part of the everyday reality of research and scholarship.” But there is resistance to the transition from older to newer forms of scholarship. Smith and Mercer quote from the Modern Language Association’s 2007 Report of the MLA Task Force on Evaluating Scholarship for Tenure and Promotion, which found it necessary to make this distinction: “scholarship should not be equated with publication, which is, at bottom, a means to make scholarship public. … Publication is not the raison d’être of scholarship; scholarship should be the raison d’être of publication.”

Smith and Mercer discuss many of the reasons for resistance and highlight one issue which, they claim, “has not been sufficiently considered”:
longstanding biases about the value of certain kinds of work in relation to others. This is a problem because much of the content that has so far proven most amenable to the web has long been regarded as second tier scholarship at best, academic scutwork at worst—the online equivalents of author or subject guides, critical editions, bibliographies, encyclopedias, indexes, concordances, or collections of letters or manuscripts.
The authors’ principal argument is that libraries have an important role in the transition to and sustainability of digital scholarship:
In general terms, there is still great value in doing what we have always done: selecting resources based on their current and future value to scholars, describing those resources so they can be located and studied, and managing collections so they are available for the long term. More specifically, we must continue to work to improve our ability to preserve the scholarly record in digital form.
Most individual faculty lack the time, resources, or expertise to ensure preservation of their own scholarly work even in the short term and clearly can’t do it in the long term that extends beyond their careers; the long term can only be addressed by an organizationally based strategy.
Historically, the library has been the organizationally based strategy for both immediate and long-term access: “Libraries are a central part of the scholarly communication system and have taken responsibility for preserving scholarship in analog formats for centuries.” (Earlier in the article, in the context of discussing data curation in the sciences, the authors point out that, “Primary materials … are typically gathered and preserved by archivists and librarians.”) “Libraries have curatorial experience needed for digital preservation,” Smith and Mercer write, therefore “libraries as traditional and trusted stewards should assert their roles in the preservation continuum” and concern themselves with preserving non-traditional forms of scholarship.

To begin:
Abby Smith recommends short-term actions scholars can take to ensure their digital scholarship is sustainable, including working with librarians when beginning a project, using standards and nonproprietary formats, declaring the intended use and audience for the work, and declaring the work’s intended longevity. These steps make it easier for librarians to act as responsible stewards by providing additional context for digital works. For repositories—libraries—she recommends working with data creators during all phases of creation and declaring policies and capabilities for archiving differing formats. She further recommends libraries take custody of new media publications for preservation experiments.
For a view of the whole range of activities involved in digital curation, see the Digital Curation Center Curation Lifecycle Model.

Finally, consider what is at stake: